Kim and I settled nicely into our beds, warm with the glow of a day spent exploring, talking with fellow travellers and drinking wine. It was so quiet where we were and we soon sank into sleep. That is until around three in the morning when the street party began. Music pounded and people laughed, glasses fell and women shrieked their need to be noticed. The party continued until around 6am before culminating with a massive explosion which set the parked car alarms wailing. That marked end of our attempt to sleep. The party soon wound down after that, but Kim and I decided to get ourselves dressed and go downstairs where Joanna from the front desk had left us some breakfast wrapped in clingfilm and a jug of milk. I had brought filter coffee and a travel drip-filter and we enjoyed our cups of strong Joe.
Kim and I had decided to begin walking from Matsinhos as walking from our hostel would have added 12km to our first day. We had also been advised that the walk to Matsinhos is quite dull and mostly built up with no scenery. So we left to find a bus. We wondered around following the convoluted roads around central Porto trying to follow the googlemaps arrow until a kind gentleman came to us and asked if he could help. He soon directed us in the right direction to catch our bus.
We arrived in Matsinhos and began to walk past the shops heading towards the sea which kept us company most of the way. It was a beautiful blue-sky day. The air was filled with the smell of the sea and salt. Having grown up in Cape Town, it was a familiar feeling and I missed it’s keenness living in Hertfordshire.
A local, walking her dog, saw us and called, ‘bon camino!’ while she dance around, flapping her arms in the direction the arrows pointed us. Grinning and hearts bursting with the excitement of setting forth on our grand adventure, we thank her and walked up metal stairs onto a bridge.
‘I just thought of something. ‘ I said to Kim.
‘Yes. I realise we’ll never not be something more. We were many things: teachers, daughters, friends. But now we can also say we’re pilgrims. We are forever and profoundly added to. Our identity and self has been adjusted and accommodated to this new aspect of ourselves. We’ll never not be pilgrims. It’s irrevocable and all ours.’
‘Ah. Ok. You’re being very philosophical.’
‘Yeah. Sorry.’ I said with a smile. But the permanence of who I now finally was after all those years of planning thrilled through me as I walked on that metal bridge towards Santiago.
The day was perfect. The sea and sky a vibrant and fresh blue that filled the soul with joy and positivity. We walked a couple of hours along a boardwalk before sitting on the deck of a cafe and drank coffee while we rubbed sunscreen on our faces and arms. We continued on and came to a the Obelisk de Memoria and met Harriet.
The Obelisk is a commemorative memorial which marks the spot where Pedro IV, emperor of Brazil, landed troops on the
8th of July 1832 in order to oust his autocratic brother, Miguel, and install a more modern regime. It was here that we came across Harriet, the first of our camino family. She too is a singer and music teacher in London and had been on the same flight as us. We chatted to her for a bit, laughing about the vagaries of life that would place all three of us in the same place all with similar working lives and experiences. Astonishingly, our stories seem to intersect on so many levels. After a while, we continued, leaving her eating crackers and contemplating the sea.
For lunch, we found another cafe and sat on the terrace with a wonderful view of the sea and a group of shirtless men playing volleyball. They glistened and strutted with youthful health and a blissful joie de vivre while we relaxed and enjoyed the co-mingled sights. It was here that Harriet found us again. We sat with our feet up, drinking beers and eating toasted sandwiches while the sun warmed us and the sea breeze cooled us. It really felt that this was exactly where we were meant to be and that we were meant to be right there all together talking and getting to know each other. After lunch, we continued to walk together for a bit until Harriet said she wanted to take a rest. We figured that we would soon see each other again and said farewell before we continued without her.
We had begun the day so well and with so much energy. But we had not slept well and our bags were too heavy. The excitement began to wane and our feet to hurt. The way steers away from the beach at one point before looping through a village and back onto the boardwalk towards Vila do Conde. We began to stumble and lose the arrows and had to ask locals to help us. Finally, we turned a corner and saw the boardwalk. But we were still required to walk around a whole block of houses to loop onto it. Seeing a path that cut out these houses and heading straight onto the boardwalk, I executively decided that we would save ourselves a few steps by taking the shortcut. Kim hesitated before following. Unfortunately, we needed to then heave ourselves and our burdens onto the boards from the sand all while manoeuvring around a rope and not falling over from the weight of our bags. Additionally, our legs were leaden by this point. I could see Kim was really not happy and I was dreading the additional 3.8km to Povoa de Varzim which had been our original target. Kim finally stopped and suggested what we had been too stubborn to admit: we should find accommodated in Vila do Conde. I agreed with her and told my pig-headed inner voice to be sensible. The itinerary that I had drawn up was only ever a guideline and not an absolute.
So there we were, stumbling and shuffling along, complaining about our backs and feet and the need for a bed and a shower, when two young women strode past us with zip and energy and both in perfect stride with each other, Croc shoes swinging from the back of their packs.
‘There they go, putting us to shame: Fit and Fitter.’ We were to to see them a number times after that, but never had a chance to talk to them. So they have remained known as Fit and Fitter to this day.
Finally we stumbled into Vila do Conde and located a cheap hotel where we checked in and sat in the foyer drinking cold wine. Finally, forcing ourselves back onto our feet, we laughingly and tipsily wedged ourselves and our bags into the tiny lift: Kim pressed face first into the mirror at the back and me into her bag. When the lift ‘tinged’ open we backed out, almost falling in a heap before righting ourselves and finding our room. Here we washed and relaxed before venturing out again and found a wonderful restaurant which served a huge pilgrims meals which was finished off with a glass of very sweet orange juice, spiced with cinnamon.